BY SARAH STEPHEN
In a March 30 media conference condemning protesters at Woomera detention centre, immigration minister Philip Ruddock asserted: "The bulk of the detention population in Australia today are not refugees", instead calling them "rejectees" — arguing that they have either had their claims rejected and are awaiting deportation, or they are appealing a negative decision.
The government, under pressure from those disgusted by the situation in the refugee prisons, has reduced the number of asylum seekers held in detention from 4000 in July 2001 to 3130, 1599 of whom are held in centres overseas.
But many asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected are refugees — they just don't fit the narrow guidelines set out by the refugee convention and Australian government legislation.
Take the case of the Jizans, an Iranian family in Woomera detention centre, who suffered religious discrimination. They fled Iran after the their 10-year-old daughter was raped, and her father threatened with death by an Iranian court for challenging the rape's legality. The Refugee Review Tribunal found that the family did not suffer persecution but "harassment", and were therefore not refugees.
Riz Wakil, an Afghan refugee, explained to Green Left Weekly that many asylum seekers don't have the money to make an appeal against an adverse decision: "While I was in Curtin detention centre in 2000, an Iranian man tried to contact some lawyers to appeal, one asked for $4000, and then agreed to $2600."
Some asylum seekers never get a chance to lodge an application. The immigration department frequently ignores attempts by people arriving at airports to make asylum claims, and puts them on the next plane out of the country.
From Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002.
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